Christmas Miscellany

Christmas will soon be upon us! The fabulous Medievalist Eleanor Parker has written two festive posts for Corymbus in recent years, but this month I’ve been revisiting some her old Clerk Of Oxford blog posts about medieval Advent hymns (see a twitter thread of them here). Her blog – which is both excellent and very popular – is full of fascinating insight into England’s Pre-Reformation religious life, and its beautiful poetry and music. Here’s a typically evocative sample from this post.

‘Among the Office Hymns for Advent is ‘Conditor Alme Siderum’, best known in translation today as ‘Creator of the stars of night’. Intended to be sung in the evening, as the early dusk of a winter night descends, this hymn praises God as the creator of the stars – those stars which seem to shine so much more brightly in a cold, frosty sky. It draws a parallel between the darkness which envelops us each day and a yet deeper darkness, ‘the world’s evening hour’, which Christ, bright as the sun, illuminates by his entry into the world.’

Eleanor includes recordings of her texts where available, and you can listen to the carol described above here. From another of her Advent posts, I also enjoyed listening this lovely Latin hymn Ecce novum gaudium.   

If that early music isn’t quite ‘early’ enough for you, I also recently came across this blog post on an Egyptian Christmas hymn found ‘on the back of a tax receipt from the mid-fifth century’ (!) 

Musical Youtube Roundup:

Perhaps my best recent discovery is the channel OperaVision. They put up full productions of opera and ballet in 1080p resolution, with subtitles, and without adverts – watching it feels like robbery! I recently spent 90 minutes enjoying Janáček’s enchanting opera The Cunning Little Vixen from National Theatre Brno. It’s available for another 5 months – watch here. You can browse the rest of their videos here

Jazzy minimalist tuned percussion in ‘Her Sanctuary’ by Joe Locke, performed by the LSO Percussion Ensemble. 

A rather romantic flute sonata by contemporary US composer Lowell Liebermann

I’m told that the Japanese composer Akira Ifukube is best known for scoring Godzilla movies, but I’ve enjoyed listening to his spare and meditative music for solo Koto – a plucked zither-like instrument with a slightly dry tone. Here’s some performed by Keiko Nosaka.  

Staying briefly in East Asia, Judith Weir’s light and breezy song cycle ‘Natural History’ is based on ancient Chinese Taoist texts – ‘short parables about natural life as lived by different species, human and animal; a Taoist Carnival of the Animals, in fact.’ I think the penultimate song even has a bit of an ear-worm! Listen to the broadcast premiere with Dawn Upshaw and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle. 

Closer to home, Roxanna Panufnik’s ‘Cantator and Amanda’ is a single-movement work for bassoon and string quartet, based on a legend from the Sussex town of Rye, about a love affair between a Friar and a local woman – according to Terry Philpott of ‘Secret Rye & Around‘ once their attempted elopement was discovered, the two were buried alive(!). The bassoon takes a prominent role in this lovely little chamber piece, making much of its plaintive higher register for this tragic story. Listen to it performed by Amy Harman and the Castalian Quartet.

Finally, I love this jazz guitar album by Herb Ellis & Remo Palmier ‎– Windflower (1978).

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas! And keep an eye open for some new Corymbus content dropping on Boxing Day…

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